I. What is Development?
you sure that you know what "development" really means with respect to different countries?
And can you determine which countries are more developed and which are less?
It is somewhat easier to say which countries are richer and which are poorer. But indicators of wealth,
which reflect the quantity of resources available to a society, provide no information about the allocation
of those resources--for instance, about more or less equitable distribution of income among social
groups, about the shares of resources used to provide free health and education services, and about
the effects of production and consumption on people's environment. Thus it is no wonder that countries
with similar average incomes can differ substantially when it comes to people's quality
of life: access to education and health care, employment opportunities, availability of clean air
and safe drinking water, the threat of crime, and so on. With that in mind, how do we determine which
countries are more developed and which are less developed?
Goals and Means of Development
Different countries have different priorities in their development policies. But to compare their
development levels, you would first have to make up your mind about what development really means to
you, what it is supposed to achieve. Indicators measuring this achievement could then be used to judge
countries' relative progress in development.
Is the goal merely to increase national wealth, or is it something more subtle? Improving the well-being
of the majority of the population? Ensuring people's freedom? Increasing their economic security?1
Recent United Nations documents emphasize "human development," measured by life expectancy,
adult literacy, access to all three levels of education, as well as people's average income, which
is a necessary condition of their freedom of choice. In a broader sense the notion of human development
incorporates all aspects of individuals' well-being, from their health status to their economic and
political freedom. According to the Human Development Report 1996, published by the United Nations
Development Program, "human development is the end--economic growth a means."
It is true that economic growth, by increasing a nation's total wealth,
also enhances its potential for reducing poverty and solving other social problems. But history offers
a number of examples where economic growth was not followed by similar progress in human development.
Instead growth was achieved at the cost of greater inequality, higher unemployment, weakened democracy,
loss of cultural identity, or overconsumption of natural resources needed
by future generations. As the links between economic growth and social and environmental issues are
better understood, experts including economists tend to agree that this kind of growth is inevitably
unsustainable--that is, it cannot continue along the same lines for long. First, if environmental and
social/human losses resulting from economic growth turn out to be higher than economic benefits (additional
incomes earned by the majority of the population), the overall result for people’s well-being
becomes negative. Thus such economic growth becomes difficult to sustain politically. Second, economic
growth itself inevitably depends on its natural and social/human conditions. To be sustainable, it
must rely on a certain amount of natural resources and services provided by nature, such as pollution
absorption and resource regeneration. Moreover, economic growth must be constantly nourished by the
fruits of human development, such as higher qualified workers capable of technological and managerial
innovations along with opportunities for their efficient use: more and better jobs, better conditions
for new businesses to grow, and greater democracy at all levels of decisionmaking (see Figure
slow human development can put an end to fast economic growth. According to the Human Development
Report 1996, "during 1960-1992 not a single country succeeded in moving from lopsided development
with slow human development and rapid growth to a virtuous circle in which human development and growth
can become mutually reinforcing." Since slower human development has invariably been followed
by slower economic growth, this growth pattern was labeled a "dead end."
Sustainable development is a term widely used by politicians all over the world, even though the notion
is still rather new and lacks a uniform interpretation. Important as it is, the concept of sustainable
development is still being developed and the definition of the term is constantly being revised, extended,
and refined. Using this book, you can try to formulate your own definition as you learn more about
the relationships among its main components--the economic, social, and environmental factors of sustainable
development--and as you decide on their relative significance based on your own system of values.
According to the classical definition given by the United Nations World Commission on Environment
and Development in 1987, development is sustainable if it "meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." It is usually understood
that this "intergenerational" equity would be impossible to achieve in the absence of present-day
social equity, if the economic activities of some groups of people continue to jeopardize the well-being
of people belonging to other groups or living in other parts of the world. Imagine, for example, that
emissions of greenhouse gases, generated mainly by highly industrialized
countries, lead to global warming and flooding of certain low-lying islands--resulting in the displacement
and impoverishment of entire island nations (see Chapter 14). Or consider
the situation when higher profits of pharmaceutical companies are earned at the cost of millions of
poor people being unable to afford medications needed for treating their life-threatening diseases.
“Sustainable” development could probably be otherwise called “equitable and balanced,” meaning
that, in order for development to continue indefinitely, it should balance the interests of different
groups of people, within the same generation and among generations, and do so simultaneously in three
major interrelated areas-–economic, social, and environmental. So sustainable development is
about equity, defined as equality of opportunities for well-being, as well as about comprehensiveness
of objectives. Figure 1.2 shows just a few of the many objectives, which, if
ignored, threaten to slow down or reverse development in other areas. You are invited to add more objectives
and explain how, in your opinion, they are connected to others. In the following chapters you will
find many examples of such interconnections.
Obviously, balancing so many diverse objectives of development is an enormous challenge for any country.
For instance, how would you compare the positive value of greater national security with the negative
value of slower economic growth (loss of jobs and income) and some, possibly irreversible, environmental
damage? There is no strictly scientific method of performing such valuations and comparisons. However,
governments have to make these kinds of decisions on a regular basis. If such decisions are to reflect
the interests of the majority, they must be taken in the most democratic and participatory way possible.
But even in this case, there is a high risk that long-term interests of our children and grandchildren
end up unaccounted for, because future generations cannot vote for themselves. Thus, to ensure that
future generations inherit the necessary conditions to provide for their own welfare, our present-day
values must be educated enough to reflect their interests as well.
challenge is further complicated by the fact that in today’s interdependent world many aspects
of sustainable development are in fact international or even global. On the one hand, many decisions
taken at the national or even local level actually have international consequences-–economic,
social, environmental. When these consequences are negative, the situation is sometimes referred to
as “exporting unsustainability.” On the other hand, national policies are often inadequate
to effectively deal with many challenges of sustainability. Thus international cooperation on the wide
range of so-called transboundary and global problems of sustainable development becomes indispensable.
Arguably, the most critical problem of sustainable development—in each country as well as globally—is
eradicating extreme poverty. That is because poverty is not only an evil in itself. It also stands
in the way of achieving most other goals of development, from clean environment to personal freedom.
Another, closely related, global problem is establishing and preserving peace in all regions and all
countries. War, as well as poverty, is inherently destructive of all economic as well as social and
environmental goals of development (see Figure 1.2).
In the final analysis sustainable development is about long-term conditions for humanity’s multidimensional
well-being. For example, the famous Rio Declaration, adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment
and Development in 1992 (also called the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), puts it this
way: “Human beings are at the center of concern for sustainable development. They are entitled
to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”